Jan 19, 2021 Last Updated 9:35 AM, Jan 19, 2021

February (8)

Indepth this month focuses on the address of the 2017 chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister of Samoa Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi at last December’s UNFCCC COP24 in Katowice, Poland. He gave the address at the side event of the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner at the Pacific and Koronivia Pavillion. He spoke on the theme, ‘Understanding the Ocean Climate Crosswalk: A Pacific Perspective.’

Blue Pacific
Samoa and our Pacific Island Forum members see ourselves as a Blue Pacific continent. That should not come as a surprise to you all because we recognise the geostrategic, economic, cultural and ecological importance of the world’s largest ocean, the Pacific Ocean, which we call our home.

Importance of the Ocean
The Pacific Ocean has provided our island communities their cultural and historical identity and attachment since time immemorial. The ocean exceeds land masses by an average factor of 300 to 1, and the Pacific peoples rely on the ocean for food, income, culture, and recreation that are so Pacific Ocean it also means we are custodians of some of the world’s richest biodiversity and marine resources. We recognise that this natural endowment is our greatest asset that must be sustainably managed for the benefit of our present and future generations. Therefore as guardians of the largest portion of the Pacific Ocean, our leadership as the Blue Pacific matters greatly. Coral reef ecosystems created our atoll islands and they are our natural barriers that protect shorelines from storm surge and erosion – defending our villages, businesses, government structures and residents at coastal areas.

Action on Ocean
As a region, we have adopted a number of ocean related communiques and declarations and take pride in our leadership on ocean governance arrangements. We have established a ban on driftnet fishing; invested in key partnerships to help address IUU fishing; have lobbied for the stand alone SDG Goal 14 on Oceans and continue to call for its effective implementation. Our region also has a total of 346 marine protected areas. We as Leaders of the region have committed to fast track the development of policies to ban the use of single-use plastic bags, plastic and styrofoam packaging and we called on Pacific Rim partners to join and commit to action on addressing marine pollution and marine debris. These are a few examples to address some of the mounting negative impacts on the health of the ocean, driven by human activity. These initiatives also highlight the value our region places in protecting and promoting the development and security of the Pacific Ocean. 

Furthermore Pacific Leaders in 2017 decided on a regional security declaration and welcomed the extensive security discussions held on an expanded concept of security inclusive of human security, humanitarian assistance, prioritising environmental security and regional cooperation in building resilience to disasters and climate change. Pacific Leaders in 2018 adopted a Regional Security Declaration known as the Boe Declaration which responds to the region’s complex and evolving regional security environment. An action plan for implementation, is being developed and we call on the UN and all partners for support in this regard.

National Ocean Action
For Samoa at the UN Ocean Conference that focused on the implementation of SDG14 on Ocean, we made 12 voluntary commitments in support of SDG14 implementation. These commitments included solid waste management efforts; approaches to address land-based pollution through river and coastal health ecosystem monitoring, plus policies and projects to manage plastics marine litter. We also looked at efforts that involve communities in fisheries management and coastal infrastructure management plans that also help them build resilience and adapt to impacts of climate change. We have committed to ensuring improved scientific information and knowledge for more informed policy making on fisheries issues and prohibiting the use of destructive fishing methods in Samoa’s fishery waters. In support of healthy ocean ecosystems which are under threat from plastic waste and marine litter, Samoa has restricted the importation of plastic bags since the introduction of the Plastic Bag Prohibition on Importation Regulations 2006.

We are taking further steps to address marine litter and have now instituted a ban on single use plastic bags and plastic straws which will take effect from January 2019. It is also intended that Styrofoam food containers and cups will be banned once environmentally friendly options have been identified and are in use. And our public has already responded proactively!

Climate change and Ocean
Sadly, despite our best efforts to sustainably manage the ocean, climate-change driven impacts such as ocean acidification are among a number of serious threats to the health and resilience of our shared ocean. We cannot speak about oceans in isolation and it should be an integral part of our climate discussions.

The recent IPCC Special 1.5 Report shows that a 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming is not just a limit for SIDS, it’s a limit for every one. From extreme weather events to sea level rise, from slowed economic growth to biodiversity loss, the report speaks to the risks of exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius. For our blue Pacific continent, it is a risk we cannot afford.

The coral reefs, that provide about 70% of the protein in the diet of Pacific Islanders and that help provide protection to at least 50% of the Pacific people living within 1.5km of the coast, will be severely degraded at 1.5°C of warming, and will all but disappear at 2°C. Healthy coral reefs attract tourism, which is a key industry that generates USD4 billion for Pacific Island countries. Ocean warming can mean huge losses in revenue, a turnover in species composition and changes in migration patterns of fish stocks. Estimates suggest that global fisheries catch will decrease by 3 million tonnes per degree Celsius of warming. This is worrying for fisheries-dependent nations like ours. The risk of irreversible loss of many marine and coastal ecosystems increases with global warming, especially with warming of 2°C or more.

The ocean however, has a two-way relationship with weather and climate. The ocean influences the weather, while changes in climate can fundamentally alter many properties of the oceans. Clearly, the ocean is a key component of the climate system. Scientists continue to highlight the critical role played by the Ocean in regulating the Climate. The Ocean is one of the major sinks of carbon sequestration and storage.

For us the ocean – climate “crosswalk” is clear. Addressing the adverse impacts of climate change and ensuring the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean and its resources are two key and interlinked priorities for our Blue Pacific. Ocean and Climate Action are two sides of the same coin.

Oceans in UNFCCC
I reiterate the importance of the inextricable links between ocean and climate. A key focus therefore of our engagement of the Pacific in the COP process is on this link and the need for Oceans to become an integral part of the continuing climate change agenda. The launching of the Oceans Pathway at COP23 led by Pacific leaders sought to address and strengthen actions related to the ocean–climate nexus. 

I have earlier highlighted some of the devastating impacts for us at above 1.5 degrees Celsius warming. Unfortunately, the IPCC 1.5 report confirms that the current commitments are far from sufficient and will not achieve the Paris Agreement’s warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. This is why the objective of the Talanoa Dialogue is crucial. That is, we need to raise the level of ambition of the next round of ND Cs. We believe the ocean is key to raising these ambitions not only as the Earth’s largest carbon sink, but it has the potential for clean energy generation, a source of food security and supply, and a storehouse of ecosystems, which when healthy, can protect coastlines.

Be Ocean inclusive
Oceans plays a critical role in achieving the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and objectives of the UNFCCC. Therefore I stress the need to ensure the relevant inclusion of the Ocean in this UNFCCC process.

I also call everyone to work together for genuine and durable partnerships, that can turn Urgent Ocean Action into much needed Ambitious Climate Action. - Courtesy of the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Writing about the future of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in this magazine last month, I concluded: “Economic union will come in due course when we deepen regional integration, specifically regional economic integration,” and added that “some structures that will bring this about have been created through our efforts at regional cooperation via the establishments of committees.” I then named the various committees and the private sector body involved.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, enlightened us on how to progress with regional integration when she spoke as an Observer at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Port Moresby on 15 November 2018. She said: “In the Pacific we take a more expansive view of regional integration that extends beyond simple economic or market integration…….Indeed, our approach to integration is unique – the catalyst being Forum Leaders endorsement in 2017 of the Blue Pacific narrative as the core driver of collective regional action in the Pacific. Grounded in the strength of our collective will, the Blue Pacific narrative emphasises action as one ocean continent, based on our shared ocean identity, geography and resources.”

The above statement is loaded and somewhat pedantic. This article unpacks the various issues and forges a way forward on how we can effectively implement and achieve our own resolutions.

The economic union I wrote about is still very much in the mix, judging from Dame Meg’s statement. Economic union comprises a common market. The Forum’s regional integration proceeds beyond market integration, the Secretary General said. I did however write that such market integration is yet to be fully formed in the region.

Moving forward from here does not necessarily mean that we ignore the deficiencies of the past. PIF needs to re-visit its market integration agenda and implement relevant reparations to strengthen its integration bases before it builds further on it. What is needed is that all planned reparatory and foundational structural work directed at future regional integration is carried out on the basis of its Blue Pacific narrative.

As far as PIF’s Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are concerned – the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) for the Forum Island Countries (FICs) and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus for all members including Australia and New Zealand, the Blue Pacific narrative requires our ‘collective action’; and this should be directed at addressing the still outstanding ratification and implementation of these agreements. Essentially, this is action taken together by members to enable them to implement the agreements and trade freely amongst themselves, and more; enabling an individual member and the group to benefit from regional economic integration.

In terms of PICTA - its Trading in Goods agreement is currently being implemented by less than half of the FICs. Negotiations on its supplementary agreements in Services and Investment are still a work in progress; and this has been ongoing since 2001 when PICTA was first signed and 2004 when FICs Leaders endorsed extension of the PICTA to include Services and Investment.

Such lethargy needs addressing. Clearly, a boost of collective adrenalin from the Blue Pacific narrative is needed here to reinforce and rejuvenate the ‘collective will’ and ‘collective action’ in order to ‘recapture the collective potential’ of the economic integration we all aspire to achieve under Pacific regionalism.

PACER Plus, on the other hand, has proved divisive already. Fiji and Papua New Guinea have pulled out of the agreement. Others may do so in due course. This, clearly, is a blight against the Blue Pacific’s ‘one ocean continent’ approach. Further, it is a blight against ‘collective action’. This is a recipe for reduction in the collective benefit to all.

What is the Forum going to do to bring about the unity it desperately promotes? What specific actions will it take to enable the Blue Pacific narrative to boost and drive the unity it needs given the divide that has already emerged?

What are Australia and New Zealand— the Forum’s developed countries and OECD members, going to do in the same spirit of unity? Will they, in the spirit of give and take, and teamwork, return to the trade negotiations to inject much-needed pragmatic concessions and/or an array of special and differential treatments that may have been sidelined previously?

Implementation of these agreements will require all FICs to readily abolish trade barriers, and other barriers relating to movements of capital and personnel that exist amongst us. We may be further persuaded to consider establishing relevant institutions from pooling of our resources aimed at regionalising specific activities for economic integration. This is the regional integration we all seek.

It will require also, at the national levels, the enabling environment re-enforced with concomitant laws and regulations aimed at achieving sustainability of procedures and benefits under these agreements. Such regulatory and legal requirements are provided for under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

The sustainability being sought is the essence of the Blue Pacific narrative. Further, it is the essence of green policies that is fundamental in any land-based development. I tweeted recently: “Lest we forget, protecting our Blue Pacific, our Livelihood and our Home obliges us to guarantee green policy on land in every sector of life. Any shade of colour other than green will eventually tarnish the land that feeds us and will muddy the blueness
of our ocean.”

Such pragmatism will bring immediate benefits through utilising the various trade preferences built into these agreements; and economic development consistent with regional aspirations—our collective will—are likely to be facilitated. This will advance the Leaders’ vision of a region of social inclusion and prosperity. It will underline Blue Pacific’s ‘collective regional action’, grounded in our ‘collective will.’

Furthermore, a Common External Tariff (CET), envisaged by our early Leaders, resonates unity amongst PIF members and underscores our efforts at creating a ‘one ocean continent’, based on our ‘shared ocean identity’ and ‘geography.’ There are options in its application. If configured under PICTA, for example, then FICs need to consider Australia and New Zealand’s special positions as major trading partners whose preferential treatment is ensured under PACER Plus. If CET is configured under PACER Plus, then caution is called for. The issue can be somewhat complex given Australia and New Zealand’s numerous FTAs with other regions
and major global trading partners.

At the close of 2018, all eyes were on international conferences in Poland and Hawaii, dealing with global commitments to climate change and fisheries management respectively. However Oxfam in the Pacific’s Regional Director, Raijeli Nicole, was at an important meeting dealing with another and related issue for the Pacific, the Blue Economy in Nairobi, Kenya. Highlights from her speech to the conference follow.

I hail from the blue continent, specifically from the large ocean state of Fiji. Fiji and its 13 independent island nation neighbours are great ocean powers. We are custodians of more than 155 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. I say custodians, rather than owners, as we hold the Pacific Ocean in trust for future generations, as our ancestors have done for generations before us. We are accountable to, and responsible for the Ocean. For Pacific people, the ocean is the source of our identities, our creation and migration stories, our ancient gods, our ancestral connections, our food, and the key to our future prosperity.

So while concepts such as ocean governance and the blue economy may have recently gained currency and focus in the international political space, our connections and responsibilities to the ocean are ancient. Our blue continent is not a collection of Exclusive Economic Zones or political boundaries or enclosed spaces, it is a complex, interlinked organism that connects and sustains us.

I would like to ask you to imagine that you are in the year 2031. Specifically, it is October 2031 and you are witnessing the Nobel Peace Prize announcement. The chair of the Nobel Committee walks up to the microphone and says: “Ladies and Gentleman, the Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2031 to “Reward Work, not Wealth Partnership” for their efforts to create a more equitable economy by prioritising ordinary workers and small-scale food producers and not the highly-paid owners of wealth.

This partnership formed at the first Sustainable Blue Economy Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya in November 2018 dared to put into motion transformative solutions to address the key global challenge of poverty in all its forms and dimensions. I start with this vision as a way to inspire us to act on our commitment for a just, inclusive and sustainable world. However, this vision raises some questions about the realities in 2018 that need to
be addressed if we are to reduce poverty, and what daring and transformative solutions are necessary to get us there.

Any discussion of the Blue Economy is intrinsically linked to the need for action on climate change. Following the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, we now know that we have just 12 years to make massive and unprecedented changes to global energy infrastructure to limit global warming to moderate levels. Staying at or below 1.5°C requires slashing global greenhouse
gas emissions 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. Meeting this IPCC goal demands extraordinary transitions in transportation; in energy, land, and building infrastructure; and in industrial systems. It means reducing our current coal consumption by one-third. It also demands a vast scale-up of Reward work, not wealth emerging technologies, such as those that remove carbon dioxide directly from the air. All in the very narrow window of the next 12 years while our momentum pushes us in the wrong direction.

A year ago, Oxfam released its report “Reward Work, Not Wealth” at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The report reveals 82 per cent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest 1 per cent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth. Not only that, but 2017 saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days, and
billionaires saw their wealth increase by US$762 billion in 12 months. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over.

Dangerous, poorly paid work for the many is supporting extreme wealth for the few. Women are in the worst work. Across the world, women consistently earn less than men and are usually in the lowest paid and least secure forms of work. By comparison, nine out of ten billionaires are men. We need to ensure the Blue Economy does not marginalise women.

Samoa’s Prime Minister has described our blue continent as an increasingly contested space. We know that much of the discourse around oceans governance and the blue economy is really about jostling for control of a space that is important for regional and global order, capitalist accumulation and ecological conservation.

Let’s use the Blue Economy to create a more human economy that puts the interests of ordinary workers and small-scale food producers first, not the highly paid and the owners of wealth. This kind of economy has greater equality as a primary aim. It is about humanity and it could end extreme inequality while guaranteeing the future of our planet.

There are three ways we can make this difference. We need to ensure all workers receive a minimum ‘living’ wage that would enable them to have a decent quality of life, eliminate the gender pay gap and protect the rights of women workers.

We need to ensure the wealthy pay their fair share of tax through higher taxes and a crackdown on tax avoidance, and increase spending on public services such as healthcare and education.

And as with climate financing, we believe in the importance of social accountability when it comes to income generation in this sector. The international community, national governments, and regional and international organisations also have an obligation to ensure that the most vulnerable - including women, children, people with disabilities and our elders, are able to benefit from the investments in decarbonising the transport sector and have access to safe, affordable, accessible and transport systems.

If we do this as an international community and press the reset button, we can imagine that future, when a Nobel peace prize is conferred because we worked together for a just, inclusive and sustainable world for all.

At a time Western security analysts are fretting over Chinese strategic influence in the Pacific, some local businesses are looking at opportunities for trade and investment with China. In the French Pacific dependency of New Caledonia, the Northern Province administration led by Paul Neaoutyine is seeking expanded access for nickel sales to the Chinese market, as part of a broader development strategy for the Kanak-majority region.

The nickel strategy is managed through the provincial development arm Société de Financement et d’Investissement de la Province Nord (SOFINOR) and the mining company Société minière du sud Pacifique (SMSP).

Over the last three decades, since the 1988 Matignon-Oudinot Accords, SMSP has grown into a significant producer of nickel metal and a major global exporter of nickel ore. After the construction of the Koniambo nickel smelter in New Caledonia’s Northern Province, SMSP is expanding offshore through joint ventures. However the company has maintained 51 per cent controlling interest in its projects in New Caledonia, Korea and even China. This is an unprecedented achievement in the Pacific, where many governments and businesses take a minority stake in resource projects run by transnational corporations.

In an interview with Islands Business, SOFINOR’s chief financial officer Karl Therby said that SMSP was working both in New Caledonia and overseas to use the diverse range of nickel ores available from locally controlled mines.

“We’ve developed a strategy to add the maximum value to the resource by adding value right through the supply chain,” said Therby. “As is the case in many countries, mining alone cannot add the necessary value that can come from the minerals. So the crucial element is the transformation of the minerals within the country.

“For high grade ore, we’re doing this transformation onshore through our subsidiary KNS, while lower grade ore is transformed into metal offshore in our joint-venture plants in Korea with SNNC and NMC and our new partner in China.”

The driving force behind SMSP and its subsidiaries is New Caledonian entrepreneur Andre Dang Van Nha. Dang’s parents arrived in New Caledonia from French-controlled Indochina in 1935. They worked as indentured labourers in the mines on the Koniambo Massif owned by Société le Nickel (SLN), which has dominated New Caledonia’s nickel industry for more than 100 years. His father died in the mines when Dang was just 17
months old. Today, SMSP controls mining operations across the Koniambo Massif.

During New Caledonia’s armed conflict of the 1980s, Andre Dang was driven into exile in Australia, with the colonial Right perceiving him as too close to the FLNKS independence movement. However he returned to New Caledonia in 1990, to assist the Northern Province manage its mining operations after the tragic death of SMSP’s Raphael Pidjot in a helicopter crash.

Beginning in 1990 as a mining transport company with 120 employees, SMSP began exporting nickel ore in 2007. Over time, SMSP has worked to break the monopoly over nickel smelting held by the French corporation ERAMET and its local subsidiary SLN.

SMSP’s strategy has been to retain high value saprolite ore from the Koniambo Massif for domestic use. This ore, with 2.3 per cent nickel content, has been supplied to a new smelter in the Northern Province: the US$5.3 billion plant at Vavouto operated by Koniambo Nickel SAS (KNS), a joint venture between SMSP and the transnational conglomerate Glencore.

Andre Dang told Islands Business that he persuaded the Anglo-Swiss financial conglomerate to allow SMSP 51 per cent controlling interest in KNS. Dang said that despite debt burdens to get the project underway, this is carried by Glencore: “I bring the resource, and Glencore brings the money. Glencore takes all responsibility for the financial risk. I don’t have any debt – they’re the ones with debt!”

To generate funding for its share of Koniambo finances, SMSP developed a strategy to export lower grade nickel ore to Korea and China, once again using joint ventures controlled 51 per cent by SMSP.

SMSP has two joint ventures with the Korean corporation Posco: the Nickel Mining Company (NMC) and the nickel processing company Société du Nickel de Nouvelle-Calédonie et Corée (SNNC). In 2009, SNNC began smelting nickel at the company’s plant at Gwangyang, South Korea, with production of 261,469 tonnes of nickel metal between 2009 and 2017. In the same period, SMSP’s subsidiary NMC has exported nearly 20,000,000
tonnes of ore to the Gwangyang plant, which uses lower grade saprolite ore with an average of 1.98 per cent nickel content.

The next challenge is to export even lower grade ore, with average nickel content of 1.65 per cent, to a joint-venture smelter in China. On 18 October 2017, SMSP signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Yangzhou Yichuan Nickel Industry Co Ltd to develop a joint project in China.

This MOU was expanded on 22 March 2018 when Andre Dang met Yichuan CEO Zhang Jianguo to finalise a memorandum of agreement (MOA).

These preliminary agreements were designed to test export systems to China before finalisation of a full contract, under which SMSP agrees to deliver 600,000 tonnes of nickel ore to Yichuan each year for the next
25 years, after the Chinese corporation agrees to sell 51 per cent of its share capital to SMSP.

SOFINOR’s Karl Therby explained that Yichuan’s pyro-metallurgical smelter at Yangzhou began production in 2012 using Indonesian minerals, but soon turned to New Caledonia.

“The Chinese had been purchasing nickel ore from Indonesia, but they had a range of concerns about the quality, the humidity of the ore and of the reliability of delivery,” Therby said. “So SMSP was able to say to them that, through our Korean operation, we have shown our capacity and reliability to export ore of higher quality than can be found in the Indonesian market. By signing the contract with us, they’ve guaranteed supply but we retain 51 per cent of the operation.”

The decision to operate offshore in Korea, and especially in China, was driven by domestic politics as well as market realities. Conservative anti-independence parties in Noumea are fiercely opposed to Chinese investment in New Caledonian enterprises, so SOFINOR and SMSP have developed new ways of working without Chinese companies operating in New Caledonia (a contrast to the troubled Chinese investment in PNG’s Ramu nickel project).

SOFINOR’s Karl Therby explained: “In our political context, with referendums on independence and public concern about Chinese influence, we don’t want them to operate here. We’ve seen what has happened in Papua New Guinea, we’ve seen what has happened in Vanuatu and we want to protect the territory from all that. So they have no actual investment in our mines; instead, we just have a contract to supply them.”

Andre Dang said that this strategy is based on an unprecedented corporate structure giving majority control to SMSP rather than the Chinese partner.

“The corporate structure is a real innovation and it’s the first time in the world that it’s been used, above all in China. The structure of 51 per cent / 49 per cent - the Chinese have never before accepted this. The Chinese government was obliged to change a law and it took seven years to allow SMSP to start operations there. We’ve just taken one small step into the Chinese market.”

He added: “After that we’ll see, because the Chinese are very intelligent. We have to be very careful, because they can be terrible! The Chinese aren’t here, they’ve stayed at home! Instead, we’ve gone over there and have taken possession of a small piece of their country, through our 51 per cent control of the smelter. The cost of operations will be paid for by the profits from the smelting.”

In 2018, after striking an agreement with SMSP, Yangzhou Yichuan Nickel added a second production line to its Yangzhou smelter, increasing potential annual production capacity from 5,000 tonnes to 25,000 tonnes of ferronickel. The metal is then sold to stainless steel producers in China. In July 2018, Northern provincial president Paul Néaoutyine paid an official visit to China, to meet with officials from Yangzhou City and major
shareholders from the Yangzhou Yichuan Nickel.

The first shipment to China under the MOA, departing Noumea in late July 2018, caused initial problems. The Yangzhou port only has capacity for vessels weighing 45,000 tonnes in a shallow river channel, but the first shipment of ore from New Caledonia

aboard MV Kiran Caribbean amounted to 62,500 tonnes. Without informing SMSP or the New Caledonian mining directorate, Yinchuan unloaded 16,006 tonnes at Lianyungang port rather than deliver the full load to the Yangzhou smelter.

To assert their rights as controlling partner, Andre Dang halted further shipments until the Chinese company apologised and agreed to bear the costs of transhipment to smaller vessels. When shipments resume, this will allow all the ore to be used at the Yangzhou smelter, thereby generating maximum returns to SMSP as controlling partner of the operation.

For Andre Dang, this strategy of maintaining majority control over operations avoids many of the problems that independent Pacific countries have faced with Chinese investments, including the over-use of Chinese labour, poor environmental standards and pressure on local politicians.

“As long as I’m at the company, I will never allow it to sell nickel ore directly to China,” Dang said. “I only want our resource to be used in New Caledonian plants or those that will be owned by New Caledonia in the future and that will supply benefits to our country. I’ll be travelling soon to China to make our policy clear to them. We’re going to shoot ourselves in the foot if we simply provide raw minerals to our competitors. That’s been going on for 140 years, ever since colonisation. We want to ensure the continued existence of our mines, because nickel is not a renewable resource. Once you’ve exhausted it, bit by bit, that’s the end.

“We don’t want New Caledonia to end up like Nauru,” he said.

“They were a world leader in phosphate mining, but they abused it and used it all up. They are a sad country. So our strategy is to add value to the resource which can generate funds for use in sectors beyond the nickel industry, which will benefit the country and future generations.”

Imagine typing a code from a can of tuna into your phone as you stand in a supermarket aisle to find out where the fish in the can was caught, and the name of the ship which landed it.

This is the vision of information technology professional Ken Katafono, who is breaking new grounds in the Pacific.

He has just launched TraSeable Solutions Pte Ltd, a fully home-grown tech start-up specialising in the provision of blockchain-based traceability solutions to the region’s fishing industry.

It’s a pioneering move, given that blockchain (or Distributed Ledger Technology as it is often referred to) is in its infancy in the region.

The company says the technology it provides will provide a degree of transparency for our region’s fishing industry that has never been seen before.

The Blockchain Supply Chain Traceability Project uses digital technology to strengthen the supply chain management of the fresh and frozen tuna sectors in the Western and Central Pacific regions.

It is a collaboration involving TraSeable, WWF through WWF-New Zealand, WWF-Australia and WWF-Fiji, global tech innovator ConsenSys, and tuna fishing and processing company Sea Quest Fiji ltd.

By using blockchain-based traceability solutions, a tuna product can be traced back to the original fish caught, as fishermen are required to register their catch on the blockchain through Radio Frequency Tagging (RFID) and scanning of fish.

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Tongan authorities have not ruled out foul play as the country recovers from two weeks offline.

Tonga’s international and domestic subsea cable lines were severely damaged on 20 January. Initial reports suggested the anchor of a container ship caused the damage, however police have not ruled out sabotage or human interference.

The Tongan international cable line runs from Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa to Fiji, while the domestic line runs from Nuku’alofa to Ha’apai then on to Vava’u. Specialists involved in the repair work reportedly found two breaks along the vital optic cables of Tonga’s international lines. Two additional breaks situated a few kilometres apart were found in then domestic cable lines.

Tonga’s Cable Director Piveni Piukala told overseas media that crew members on a repair ship found a rope tangled in the domestic cable for about 100 metres. He added that the cables were twisted and damaged along that length.

Piukala said he still had doubts about the theory that a ship could have accidentally applied such a force to the cable, causing such extensive damage over such large distances.

Meanwhile Fiji International Telecommunication Limited CEO George Samisoni said the cable lines were protected by armored piping, and that sub-sea cables near and in coastal waters were usually buried three metres underground along the shore end.

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Fiji ’s industrial relations mechanisms have come under the spotlight yet again in a new International Labour Organisation report.

The Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, released in February addresses several issues that Fiji unions have raised with the ILO.

On the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, the report notes submissions from the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) dated from October 2017 and August 2018.

“The Government has not engaged in good faith to amend the legislation (Employment Relations Act 2016) to bring it into conformity with the Convention, and…the ERAB (Employment Relations Advisory Board) has not held meetings as agreed and has now been shut down without any review of the legislation or legislative amendment,” the ILO report notes.

FTUC’s submissions to the ILO also note restrictions placed on unions to organise demonstrations and hold meetings, and state that resolving disputes has become difficult, if not impossible.

“The Committee notes with concern the allegations of the FTUC that the Government has systematically dismantled tripartism by removing and/or replacing the tripartite representation on a number of bodies (including the ERAB, the Fiji National Provident Fund, the Fiji National University’s Training and Productivity Authority of Fiji, the Air Terminal Service and the Wages Councils) with its own nominees,” the ILO report. The ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations is urging the Fiji Government to take all necessary measures, including the reconvening of the Employment Relations Advisory Board.

The Fiji Trades Union Congress had also raised concerns with the ILO on prohibitions to organise meetings and rallies. “The Committee notes the FTUC’s allegations that permission for union meetings and public gatherings continues to be arbitrarily refused. It once again requests the Government to take the necessary measures to bring section 8 into line with the Convention by fully repealing or amending this provision

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Will the decision by the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) to become the world’s first country to issue its own blockchain sovereign cryptocurrency (SOV) be a momentous game changer? Or is it just another pie in the sky project that jumped the gun?

Already, it has had its share of sceptics. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its latest Article IV consultation with RMI (report released in September last year), likened the move to issuing ‘helicopter money’, a term coined in the 1960s by American economist Milton Friedman to describe a hypothetical monetary policy that involves printing large sums of money and distributing it to the public to stimulate the economy.

The IMF concern stems from the RMI’s plans to distribute a portion of the SOV units free to Marshallese and to a number of RMI trust funds, once it is approved for distribution.

Devoting a significant section of its report specifically to the RMI’s SOV project, the IMF cautioned the U.S. compact country of the many risks associated with the planned issuance, among them monetary instability and macroeconomic challenges.

“Considering the significant risks, (IMF staff) recommends that the authorities seriously reconsider the issuance of the digital currency as legal tender,” IMF’s report noted. “The potential benefits from revenue gains appear considerably smaller than the potential costs arising from economic, reputational, AM/CFT, and governance risks. While technology may help to address some of these risks, others would need to be mitigated through institutional changes. Furthermore, the use of SOV as a means of exchange in transactions would require significant additional costs to upgrade RMI’s telecommunications infrastructure.”

Those who work with blockchain technology in the Pacific feel it may be a little too early, although they will be keeping a close watch on the initiative.

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